Oscar Wilde once said, “No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly”. Stephen Davis then said, “No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions, it will not look beautiful”, and thus, you have the central modus operandi of the entire cosmetic industry summed up in two quotes. There is something disturbing about, not just advertisements for beauty products but advertisements in general. We know that there are three main forms of rhetoric, and when referring to advertisements we can substitute the word rhetoric for the word persuasion: Ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos is persuasion by ethics, logos is the use of reasoning to persuade, and pathos is the persuasion by use of the emotional mind.
In my mind though, these three forms of rhetoric can be personified into more familiar terms such as you sometimes see, for example, the seven deadly sins manifested into familiar objects or people (for instance, lust is a sharp blade, etc…). Well, I am going to combine Ethos, Logos and Pathos with the popular phrase The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Logos is The Good, because it is the use of reason to persuade, and reason is based on fact. There is a well-defined set of parameters with logos (either something is fact or fiction), making honesty very easy to see. Ethos is The Bad because it is based on general and individuals ethics and credibility. Those features can be tampered with, manipulated and skewed easier than Logos because people’s opinions are all different and personal, truth is a matter of preference. But Pathos is without a doubt The Ugly – because of the sheer intangibility associated with emotions, and especially fear. It is what companies love to use the most because it plays off of the person’s desires, insecurities, and secrets, which are barely definable by definition but understood intuitively. Basically, the more abstract a method is, the more effective it is in persuasion. Also known as brainwashing. When an idea is beat into your head for so long you believe it to be fact; regardless. Television, print news, Internet, are so effective because they use and abuse emotional reactions so well.
For instance on the television news you would most likely see a barrage of bad news followed by “buy this, do that, look like this” ad campaigns, followed by more bad news. It’s a chain of fear and consumption that drives the public to believe that everything that is displayed is true, and then their values are shaped by what they think is true and mimic their whole lives around this certain image that they believe they need to have. Or maybe you are watching your favorite television show and you recognize the clothes of one of its main characters. The show then proceeds to cut to commercial where that same character or model of equal talent is promoting a clothing line in such a way that impulses you to go out and buy that brand. This is manipulation in its finest and most subtle state. Unfortunately, the cosmetic industry picks up the baton and runs with it when it comes to Pathos advertising. L’Oreal, Revlon; these companies are the two biggest, and therefore the biggest culprits, but I will be focusing in on just L’Oreal advertising.
We have all seen the commercials. First, it establishes its credibility, through the clever use of endorsements mainly to super attractive models or celebrities – which by the way is a clear use of Ethos rhetoric. In the commercial, said celebrity is holding the bottle of makeup or whatever all while making the biggest grin in humankind history, repeatedly saying again and again “try this, do that”, and a couple of before/after shots and testimonies by “real people”, it is almost like clockwork how similar they have become to one another. It is because they work. And they work well. I believe it to be sad that any company need to manipulate the fears of young women (because that is a cosmetics company’s main audience. And if you can brainwash a person at a young age, that brainwash can and most likely will follow into adulthood and even seniority if they aren’t ever being told differently) and guide their values toward a consumer based lifestyle, or the belief that having certain things or features will make you happy and wanted. They make them clutch this idea of that float or sink philosophy; they are using these women’s own values against them, and then twisting it around their product, so that it looks like in order to be happy they need to be beautiful. And in order to be beautiful they need to buy this product. So when one breaks it down to its bare essentials, subliminally, the advertisements are saying this: “If you want to be happy, spend money on our products”.
What is even more interesting than the commercials themselves, are the results of the applied product. It is a fools belief to think that everyone runs out and buys everything in sight that are advertised with the intent that it is going to bring instant happiness, but in the subconscious that idea is recycled in the brain and has to do with part of the impulse that we have when we buy things (known as impulse buying). So what happens when, say, a young girl goes to Macy’s and buys an expensive beauty product? Well, let’s get one thing established; makeup does not “make-up” a person. The whole outside world does not change because this makeup has been applied to her skin. In fact, the only thing changing physically is the outer layer of her skin, hair or nails, etc. Don’t be fooled, just because something has an expensive price tag does not mean it was expensive to produce. There is evidence to the contrary on a lot of cases. That means that when someone goes to the store and buys makeup, because the average bottle of makeup costs less than a cent to produce, and they see that tag price, and let’s say it costs a dollar; only one percent of the price is actually covering the cost of the makeup. Where is the other 99 percent going? Profit, yes, but more importantly it is going towards shaping your own psychological security, which is something you can do completely on your own for free, I might add – no, it is something you have to do on your own. Studies have shown many times that the amount of makeup or type of clothes does not make one more secure, in fact, once again there is evidence to the contrary; micromanaging our appearance often leads to over embellishing our image and ends up increasing insecurity. So basically, you’re paying a cosmetics company (and so 99 percent of their profit) mostly for covering up insecurities, which in turn has a rebound effect on that persons self-image and they spend more money trying to cover it up. And that ties back in to fear-based consumption.
I know at this point you are probably asking, “Stephen, what are you going to do about this”? Well, sadly, there isn’t anything I can do. But I can make fun of L’Oreal and their advertisers for being so deceitful and detrimental to society. I can make an anti-ad, which reverses any persuasion and spin it into negative attention. L’Oreal cover models usually feature some gorgeous 20 something year old woman with bright shining teeth and in a glamorous pose. Over her head is usually the brand name L’Oreal and directly under that is the word “Professionell”. At the bottom of the screen is usually a picture in the foreground of the product that is being sold.
My anti-ad would go something like this: As the original ad does I would have a close up of a woman’s face, not in a gleeful position, but in a forlorn, helpless pose. She is completely blacked out by the sheer volume of makeup that she obsessively put on. Tears are streaming down her face, and the trail leaves her real skin, glowing and white underneath. The tears themselves have become back and heavy due to collecting the mass of makeup that is on her face. Underneath her face, as the original advertisement suggests, there is a bottle of makeup. But instead, in my rendition the makeup bottle is empty the words “WHOREAL” tattooed across the front. On the top of the ad would be the words UN’REAL. And underneath that, the word “Expectations” where “professionell” would normally go. Really, that is all that is needed to express my disgust and disapproval of this companies advertising method.